FAYETTEVILLE -- After the University of Arkansas swept the women's NCAA championships in indoor and outdoor track and field last year, the Razorbacks are ranked No. 1 in cross country for the first time.
Arkansas moved from No. 2 to No. 1 in the U.S. coaches' poll released Tuesday after a dominating performance at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville on Saturday. The Razorbacks won the team title and took the top four individual places, led by senior Taylor Werner running the 5,000-meter race in a course-record 15 minutes, 45.4 seconds at the UA Agri Park.
Werner, who was the coaches' association national runner of the week, was followed by Arkansas senior Katie Izzo in second, senior Devin Clark in third and senior Carina Viljoen in fourth.
Rounding out the scoring for the Razorbacks was senior Abby Gray in 17th. Senior Maddy Reed was 20th.
Arkansas is the first SEC women's cross country team to be ranked No. 1 since the poll's inception in 1995.
"Obviously, that's a precedent and a marker for our legacy," said Lance Harter, in his 31st year as coach of the Arkansas women's cross country and track and field teams. "Somewhat of a historical moment."
Rounding out the top five in this week's poll are No. 2 BYU, No. 3 Colorado, No. 4 New Mexico and No. 5 Stanford.
Kentucky won the SEC's only women's NCAA cross country title in 1988. Arkansas has finished second nationally four times under Harter in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1999.
This year's NCAA meet will be run on Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.
"I'd much rather be No. 1 at the end of November after the national championships," Harter said. "Hopefully, we can maintain that. We'll definitely have to defend that ranking next week at the Wisconsin Invitational."
The Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational will be held Oct. 19 in Madison, Wis.
"It's always been a mass of talent going head to head," Harter said. "We'll see a lot of the key players, and we'll have to run like we have been, making sure we protect those high places."
Werner also set a course record in her first race this season when she ran 16:24 to win the John McNichols Invitational in Terre Haute.
"Taylor's doing a great job," Harter said. "Her fitness level is as good as it's ever been, and she's always proven to be a great competitor."
Izzo, a senior transfer from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, ran 15:50.2 at the Chile Pepper.
"Katie's been a big surprise," Harter said. "She's had a litany of injuries in her career, and we've been very fortunate to have our medical team kind of rebuild her, and the result has been absolutely fantastic. She's gone way beyond anyone's expectations."
Arkansas junior Lauren Gregory, who has been recovering from a foot injury, ran unattached at the Chile Pepper and finished ninth. Harter said she's now ready to resume training at a high level.
"As Lauren starts to really get into training mode, she could add a real weapon to this team," Harter said. "She gives us even more depth now."
Sports on 10/09/2019